Evangelium Vitae Article 72 -74: Unjust Laws
This post is taken from the book, ” The Encyclicals in Everyday Language,” by Joseph G. Donders.
72. Thomas Aquinas wrote,
“every human law can be called a law
insofar as it derives from the natural law.
But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law
then it is not really a law
but a corruption of the law. (ST Ia-IIae, q. 95, a.2).
This applies in the first place to the source
of all other rights, the right to life.
Laws that legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings
through abortion or euthanasia are in opposition to this right to life.
This is the case even when euthanasia
is requested with full awareness of the person involved.
Any state that makes such a request legitimate,
authorizing it to be carried out,
would be legalizing suicide-murder,
thus lessening respect for life
and destroying mutual trust.
73. There is a clear and grave obligation
to oppose such laws by conscientious objection.
Christians have a duty to obey
legitimate public authorities,
but they must obey God
rather than human beings (cf Acts 5:29)
In the case of a law permitting abortion or euthanasia,
it is never licit to obey it or
“to take part in a propaganda campaign
in favor of such a law, or vote for it.” *
A problem can arise when there is the possibility of an existing pro-abortion law.
In such a case people known
for their opposition to procured abortion
could vote in favor of such a law to limit the harm done.
74. Unjust laws raise difficult questions
for morally upright people as regards to cooperation.
The choices to be made are sometimes difficult;
prestigious positions and careers might be at stake.
One should recall here the general principles
concerning cooperation in evil actions.
It is never licit to cooperate formally in evil,
not even by appealing to the freedom of others
or to the fact that the law permits the action.
To refuse to take part in committing an injustice
is not only a moral duty;
it is also a basic human right,
a right that as such should be acknowledged
and protected by civil law.
Those who have recourse to conscientious objection
must be protected not only from lawsuits
but also from other negative effects
on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane.
From “Evangelium Vitae” #72-74
“John Paul II - The Encyclicals in Everyday Language” by Joseph G. Donders
For a study guide to Evangelium Vitae, see the Priests for Life website
For the original encyclical in its entirety, see the Vatican website